Friday, December 27, 2013

Pope Offers Christmas Wish – True Peace For The World

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis offered Christmas wishes Wednesday for a better world, praying for protection for Christians under attack, battered women and trafficked children, peace in the Middle East and Africa, and dignity for refugees fleeing misery and conflict around the globe. Francis delivered the traditional “Urbi et Orbi” (Latin for “to the city and to the world”) speech from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica to more than 70,000 cheering tourists, pilgrims and Romans in the square below.
In his first Christmas message since being elected pontiff in March, he asked for all to share in the song of Christmas angels, “for every man or woman who hopes for a better world, who cares for others,” humbly. Among places ravaged by conflict, Francis singled out Syria, which saw its third Christmas during civil war; South Sudan; the Central African Republic; Nigeria; and Iraq. The Vatican has been trying to raise concern in the world for persecution and attacks on Christians in parts of the Middle East and Africa. “Lord of life, protect all who are persecuted in your name,” Francis said.
Adding an off-the-cuff remark, Francis said he was also inviting non-believers to join their desire for peace with everyone else. He then explained his concept of peace. “True peace is not a balancing of opposing forces. It’s not a lovely facade which conceals conflicts and divisions,” the pope said. “Peace calls for daily commitment.” Francis also spoke of the lives of everyday people, especially those struggling for a better life. Recalling the hundreds of migrants who have drowned this year while trying to reach European shores, including many close to the Italian island of Lampedusa, Francis prayed that refugees receive hope, consolation and assistance. He added that “our thoughts turn to those children who are the most vulnerable victims of wars, but we think, too, of the elderly, of battered women” and others.

By Frances D’Emilio, The Enquirer, December 26, 2013, Page A8

Is Anybody Listening

It’s about time that our hierarchy listens more intently to the world. It’s about time the hierarchy spends some time listening more carefully to, as lofty Church documents say, the “joys and hopes, the struggles and anxieties” of the people of God before charting a program for the Church. Thank God, this listening seems to be under way. Later this year, in October, our Church will hold a Synod of Bishops on “Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelization.” It might sound as if we’ve heard this all before. Yet this synod promises something dramatically new. Pope Francis is preparing our leaders to meet by starting with a Church-wide poll of sorts, a sounding that is now happening.

Challenges to the Church
When he announced this pastoral synod this past October, Pope Francis acknowledged that families everywhere face challenges that our Church simply isn’t addressing. What are these challenges? Let’s find out, says the pope. Let’s ask people who are facing these challenges day-to-day. It’s a welcome approach. Past synods have more typically involved a large group of bishops, hopefully in touch with their people, gathering for a period of time, speaking to that synod’s topic. A few months later, the pope would issue a document interpreting the learning’s of the synod.
No empty gesture, these synods: the results have almost always touched the entire Church in one way or another. But sometimes their findings could have been broader, or more on target toward the lived experience of the faithful. There were times since Vatican II that a local bishop might seek advice from his people before heading off to discern and debate with his fellow bishops. But this time every one is consulting, at the explicit request of the Holy Father. Pope Francis has given our bishops a set of questions to drive the process. It’s the first time in history the Roman Catholic Church has done anything like this.

Some Starter Questions
The questions are a big clue that this Holy Father understands there is a problem. For example:
·        How should a Catholic approach the non-Church wedding of the niece or nephew, brother or sister, who has been living with a partner for years?
·        What about divorce, a huge family question?
·        How many does each of us know who simply have shaken their heads and walked away from the Church, perhaps at a time when they needed it most? Lots of them never came back.
·        What about inter-religious marriages?
·        Single-parent households?
·        How can the Church be warm and inviting to those living with same-sex partners, some of whom are raising children?
·        How do we address the growing trend of less-than-lifetime marriage commitment? Surrogate parenthood?
·        What about polygamy?
·        Dowries that translate into the purchase of wives?
·        Caste systems?
·        What does it mean for marriage to be a sacrament?
Those questions are coming from Western culture. Yet it’s a worldwide Church. This is such a spiritual crisis, says the pope, that it will take two synods: one this year, where urgent questions will be named via consultation with the faithful; and a second, in 2015, where some practical approaches and responses are discerned. Hey, Church! Let’s all do our homework. Let’s broaden the nets and listen to all manner of experiences. Let us listen and better understand the challenges of families—all sorts of them—in the modern world.

By John Feister,, January 2014, Page 15.

Guardian Angel

That every individual soul has a guardian angel has never been defined by the Church, and is, consequently, not an article of faith; but it is the "mind of the Church", as St. Jerome expressed it: "how great the dignity of the soul, since each one has from his birth an angel commissioned to guard it." (Comm. in Matt., xviii, lib. II).
This belief in guardian angels can be traced throughout all antiquity; pagans, like Menander and Plutarch (cf. Eusebius, "Praep. Evang.", xii), and Neo-Platonists, like Plotinus, held it. It was also the belief of the Babylonians and Assyrians, as their monuments testify, for a figure of a guardian angel now in the British Museum once decorated an Assyrian palace, and might well serve for a modern representation; while Nabopolassar, father of Nebuchadnezzar the Great, says: "He (Marduk) sent a tutelary deity (cherub) of grace to go at my side; in everything that I did, he made my work to succeed."
In the Bible this doctrine is clearly discernible and its development is well marked. In Genesis 28-29, angels not only act as the executors of God's wrath against the cities of the plain, but they deliver Lot from danger; in Exodus 12-13, an angel is the appointed leader of the host of Israel, and in 32:34, God says to Moses: "my angel shall go before thee." At a much later period we have the story of Tobias, which might serve for a commentary on the words of Psalm 90:11: "For he hath given his angels charge over thee; to keep thee in all thy ways." (Cf. Psalm 33:8 and 34:5) Lastly, in Daniel 10 angels are entrusted with the care of particular districts; one is called "prince of the kingdom of the Persians", and Michael is termed "one of the chief princes"; cf. Deuteronomy 32:8 (Septuagint); and Ecclesiasticus 17:17 (Septuagint).
This sums up the Old Testament doctrine on the point; it is clear that the Old Testament conceived of God's angels as His ministers who carried out his behests, and who were at times given special commissions, regarding men and mundane affairs. There is no special teaching; the doctrine is rather taken for granted than expressly laid down; cf. 2 Maccabees 3:25; 10:29; 11:6; 15:23.
But in the New Testament the doctrine is stated with greater precision. Angels are everywhere the intermediaries between God and man; and Christ set a seal upon the Old Testament teaching: "See that you despise not one of these little ones: for I say to you, that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 18:10). A twofold aspect of the doctrine is here put before us: even little children have guardian angels, and these same angels lose not the vision of God by the fact that they have a mission to fulfill on earth.
Without dwelling on the various passages in the New Testament where the doctrine of guardian angels is suggested, it may suffice to mention the angel who succored Christ in the garden, and the angel who delivered St. Peter from prison. Hebrews 1:14 puts the doctrine in its clearest light: "Are they not all ministering spirits, sent to minister for them, who shall receive the inheritance of salvation?" This is the function of the guardian angels; they are to lead us, if we wish it, to the Kingdom of Heaven.
St. Thomas teaches us (Summa Theologica I:113:4) that only the lowest orders of angels are sent to men, and consequently that they alone are our guardians, though Scotus and Durandus would rather say that any of the members of the angelic host may be sent to execute the Divine commands. Not only the baptized, but every soul that cometh into the world receives a guardian spirit; St. Basil, however (Homily on Psalm 43), and possibly St. Chrysostom (Homily 3 on Colossians) would hold that only Christians were so privileged. Our guardian angels can act upon our senses (I:111:4) and upon our imaginations (I:111:3) — not, however, upon our wills, except "per modum suadentis", viz. by working on our intellect, and thus upon our will, through the senses and the imagination. (I:106:2; and I:111:2). Finally, they are not separated from us after death, but remain with us in heaven, not, however, to help us attain salvation, but "ad aliquam illustrationem" (I:108:7, ad 3am).

Feast of Guardian Angels

This feast, like many others, was local before it was placed in the Roman calendar. It was not one of the feasts retained in the Pian breviary, published in 1568; but among the earliest petitions from particular churches to be allowed, as a supplement to this breviary, the canonical celebration of local feasts, was a request from Cordova in 1579 for permission to have a feast in honor of the guardian angels. (Bäumer, "Histoire du Breviaire", II, 233.) Bäumer, who makes this statement on the authority of original documents published by Dr. Schmid (in the "Tübinger Quartalschrift", 1884), adds on the same authority that "Toledo sent to Rome a rich proprium and received the desired authorization for all the Offices contained in it, Valencia also obtained the approbation in February, 1582, for special Offices of the Blood of Christ and the Guardian Angels."
So far the feast of Guardian Angels remained local. Paul V placed it (27 September, 1608) among the feasts of the general calendar as a double "ad libitum" (Bäumer, op. cit., II, 277). Nilles gives us more details about this step. "Paul V", he writes, "gave an impetus to the veneration of Guardian Angels (long known in the East and West) by the authorization of a feast and proper office in their honor. At the request of Ferdinand of Austria, afterwards emperor, he made them obligatory in all regions subject to the Imperial power; to all other places he conceded them ad libitum, to be celebrated on the first available day after the Feast of the Dedication of St. Michael the Archangel. It is believed that the new feast was intended to be a kind of supplement to the Feast of St. Michael, since the Church honored on that day (29 September) the memory of all the angels as well as the memory of St. Michael (Nilles, "Kalendarium", II, 502). Among the numerous changes made in the calendar by Clement X was the elevation of the Feast of Guardian Angels to the rank of an obligatory double for the whole Church to be kept on 2 October, this being the first unoccupied day after the feast of St. Michael (Nilles, op. cit., II, 503). Finally Leo XIII (5 April, 1883) favored this feast to the extent of raising it to the rank of a double major.
Such in brief is the history of a feast which, though of comparatively recent introduction, gives the sanction of the Church's authority to an ancient and cherished belief. The multiplicity of feasts is in fact quite a modern development, and that the guardian angels were not honored with a special feast in the early Church is no evidence that they were not prayed to and reverenced. There is positive testimony to the contrary (see Bareille in Dict. de Theol. Cath., s.v. Ange, col. 1220). It is to be noted that the Feast of the Dedication of St. Michael is amongst the oldest feasts in the Calendar. There are five proper collects and prefaces assigned to this feast in the Leonine Sacramentary (seventh century) under the title "Natalis Basilicae Angeli in Salaria" and a glance at them will show that this feast included a commemoration of the angels in general, and also recognition of their protective office and intercessory power. In one collect God is asked to sustain those who are laboring in this world by the protecting power of his heavenly ministers (supernorum . . . . praesidiis . . . . ministrorum). In one of the prefaces, God is praised and thanked for the favor of angelic patronage (patrociniis . . . . angelorum). In the collect of the third Mass the intercessory power of saints and angels is alike appealed to (quae [oblatio] angelis tuis sanctisque precantibus et indulgentiam nobis referat et remedia procuret aeterna" (Sacramentarium Leonianum, ed. Feltoe, 107-8). These extracts make it plain that the substantial idea which underlies the modern feast of Guardian Angels was officially expressed in the early liturgies. In the "Horologium magnum" of the Greeks there is a proper Office of Guardian Angels (Roman edition, 329-334) entitled "A supplicatory canon to man's Guardian Angel composed by John the Monk" (Nilles, II, 503), which contains a clear expression of belief in the doctrine that a guardian angel is assigned to each individual. This angel is thus addressed "Since thou the power (ischyn) receives my soul to guard, cease never to cover it with thy wings" (Nilles, II, 506).
For 2 October there is a proper Office in the Roman Breviary and a proper Mass in the Roman Missal, which contains all the choice extracts from Sacred Scripture bearing on the three-fold office of the angels, to praise God, to act as His messengers, and to watch over mortal men. "Let us praise the Lord whom the Angels praise, whom the Cherubim and Seraphim proclaim Holy, Holy, Holy" (second antiphon of Lauds). "Behold I will send my angel, who shall go before thee, and keep thee in thy journey, and bring thee into the place that I have prepared. Take notice of him, and hear his voice" (Exodus 23; capitulum ad Laudes). The Gospel of the Mass includes that pointed text from St. Matthew 18:10: "See that you despise not one of these little ones: for I say to you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father who is in heaven." Although 2 October has been fixed for this feast in the Roman calendar, it is kept, by papal privilege, in Germany and many other places on the first Sunday (computed ecclesiastically) of September, and is celebrated with special solemnity and generally with an octave (Nilles, II, 503).

Monday, December 23, 2013

Italian Funeral

Pasquale died. His will provided $40,000 for an elaborate funeral. As the last guests departed the affair, his wife Angelina turned to her oldest and dearest friend. "Ah well, Pasquale would be pleased," she said. "You're right," replied Maria, who lowered her voice and leaned in close. "So go on, how much did this really cost?'" "All of it," said Angelina, "forty thousand." "Aw No" Maria exclaimed, "I mean, it was very grand, but $40,000?"  
Angelina answered, "The funeral was $6,500. I donated $500 to the church. The whiskey, wine and snacks were another $500. The rest went for the Memorial Stone." Maria computed quickly. "Mama Mia, for the love of God, Angelina, $32,500 for a Memorial Stone; how big is it?"

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Are Pre-Retirees Ready For What Lies Ahead

Are retirees content in retirement? Are pre-retirees comfortable with their prospects of what lies ahead? How do they plan to approach retirement? What accounts for the difference in perception? These and related topics were the subject of a recent online survey performed by the Society of Actuaries (SOA) of respondents ages 45 to 80. Note that these were not representative samples, so the study does not measure up to strict scientific standards.
The two groups do have some goals in common. Both plan to reduce what they spend, increase their level of savings and reduce debt, even eliminating consumer debt. But the SOA data suggest a divergence between some expectations and reality. Thirty-eight percent of the surveyed retirees retired before age 55, and another 24 percent retired between the ages 55 and 59 with a median age of retirement of 58, many likely nudged into retirement by unexpected ill health or the fallout from a weak economy.
Pre-retirees on the other hand tend to believe that they will be working longer. Nearly four in 10 believe that they will continue to work until between the ages 65 and 67. Another one in six thinks that they will never retire. In a related 2013 study performed by ING Insurance, 90 percent of retirees reported that their current lifestyle was not too dissimilar from the ideal retirement that they had envisioned. At the other extreme many of those preparing for retirement are not at all confident. ING attributed that difference in attitude and expectation to the fact that many retirees (60 percent in their survey) are receiving benefits from a defined-benefit pension plan while only 41 percent of the pre-retirees surveyed enjoyed such a benefit.
A defined-benefit pension plan instills confidence in the covered worker because it sets a retirement benefit, which usually increases as the years go by, and the employer is obligated to put in sufficient funds to achieve that goal for each worker. And that benefit is usually guaranteed for the life of the worker and often that of worker’s spouse as well. In achieving adequate funding for such a plan, the employer takes all the investment risk. If investments do not perform as expected, the employer has to make up the difference.
According to ING, the more years a worker has to retirement age, the more likely he or she is to have a defined-contribution plan. In this kind of retirement plan, seen in the form of a 401(k) plan or money-purchase pension plan, the employer’s commitment is on the front end. The employer and perhaps also the employee put into the plan a certain amount of money, and the employee’s later benefit depends upon how the fund grows by retirement and throughout retirement.

By J. Brendan Ryan, The Enquirer, December 21, 2013, Page B3

Pope Francis Warns Curia Against Mediocrity, Gossip In Vatican

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis cautioned Vatican administrators Saturday that their work can deteriorate into mediocrity, gossip and bureaucratic squabbling if they forget that theirs is a professional vocation of service to the church.
Francis made the comments in his Christmas address to the Vatican Curia, the bureaucracy that forms the central government of the 1.2 billion- strong Catholic Church. The speech was eagerly anticipated given that Francis was elected in March on a mandate to overhaul the antiquated and often dysfunctional Vatican administration.
Already, heads have started to roll: just last week, Francis reshuffled the advisory body of the powerful Congregation for Bishops, the office that vets all the world’s bishop nominations. He removed the archconservative American Cardinal Raymond Burke, a key figure in the U.S. culture wars on abortion and gay marriage, and also nixed the head of Italy’s bishops’ conference and another hard-line Italian, Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, earlier axed as head of the Vatican office responsible for priests.
Francis has said he wants a Vatican Curia that is more responsive to the needs of local bishops, who have long complained of Rome’s slow or unhelpful interventions in their work caring for souls. Francis has said he wants the church as a whole to be less consumed with moralizing than showing mercy to the needy, wherever they are.
            Francis thanked the cardinals, bishops and priests gathered in the Clementine Hall for the Christmas address for their work, diligence and creativity. Deviating from his prepared text, he said: “There are saints in the Curia!” But he also reminded them that Vatican officials must display professionalism, competence and holiness in their lives.
“When professionalism is lacking, there is a slow drift downwards toward mediocrity. Dossiers become full of trite and lifeless information and incapable of opening up lofty perspectives,” le said. “Then, too, when the attitude is no longer one of service to the particular churches and their bishops, the structure of the Curia turns into a ponderous, bureaucratic customs house, constantly inspecting and questioning, hindering the working of the Holy Spirit and the growth of God’s people.” Francis called for Vatican officials to exercise “conscientious objection to gossip.” “Let us all be conscientious objectors, and mind you I’m not simply moralizing!” he said. “Gossip is harmful to people, our work and our surroundings.”

By Nicole Winfield, The Enquirer, December 22, 2013, Page A10

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Pope Shares His Birthday Breakfast with Homeless

VATICAN CITY — Three homeless men, one of them carrying his dog, helped Pope Francis celebrate his 77th birthday Tuesday, joining him for Mass and breakfast and presenting him with a bouquet of sunflowers. The men live on the street in the Rome neighborhood just outside the Vatican’s walls and were invited by the Holy See official in charge of alms-giving to attend the Mass. The Vatican said Francis also invited his household help to join him in a “family-like” atmosphere, and he spoke of them one by one during his homily.

Why the Name Francis

When the new pope’s birth and papal names were announced from St. Peter’s balcony in March 2013, many assumed that the first Jesuit pope was selecting the great Jesuit missionary St. Francis Xavier as his patron. But it soon became clear that it was Francis of Assisi who inspired Cardinal Bergoglio. “For me,” the new pope explained a few days after his election, “he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation.” Pope Francis picked up these themes of peace, creation, and poverty in the long day he spent in Assisi, two months ago, on October 4, 2013, the feast day of St. Francis.
Preaching at a morning Mass, the pope explained that “Franciscan peace is not something saccharine. The peace of St. Francis is the peace of Christ, and it is found by those who take up their yoke, namely Christ’s commandment: ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’ This yoke cannot be borne with arrogance, presumption or pride, but only with meekness and humbleness of heart.” He also described the world as God’s great creation and gift. “From this city of peace,” he said in the same homily, “I repeat with all the strength and the meekness of love: let us respect creation, let us not be instruments of destruction! Let us respect each human being.”
The pope focused on poverty throughout his visit, but particularly in the hall where St. Francis had dramatically stripped himself of his family’s rich clothing, laid it at his father’s feet, and embraced poverty. There, the pope declared, “We need to strip the Church. We are in very grave danger. We are in danger of worldliness.” He also starkly described a worldly spirit as “the leprosy, the cancer of society! It is the cancer of God’s revelation! The spirit of the world is the enemy of Jesus.”
Strong words, indeed, but the pope also carried a message of hope: “I ask the Lord that he gives us all this grace to strip ourselves.”

Christopher M. Bellitto, PhD, is associate professor of history at Kean University in Union, New Jersey. His books include 101 Questions and Answers on Popes and the Papacy and Renewing Christianity. (St. Anthony Messenger, December 2013, Page 36)

The Choice to Rejoice

I could not make sense of the commentator’s words. “Good morning! Welcome to our celebration of the Third Sunday of Advent, Rejoice Sunday. We will light a pink candle on our wreath today to symbolize this moment of expectant joy.” It was December 16, 2012, and only 48 hours earlier, 26 innocent children and adults had been massacred at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. The nation was numb. We were in shock. How could we rejoice?
I listened half-attentively to Zephaniah’s cry, “Be glad and exult with all your heart” (3:14), and to Paul’s exhortation to the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!” (4:4). I heard the crowds and the tax collectors ask John the Baptist, “What then should we do” to prepare the way for the Lord? (Lk 3:10). And I asked myself, what should we do? What can any of us do in an environment of such heart-chilling tragedy? The morning paper had quoted someone as saying that Christmas would be canceled in several places this year. There was no room for joy.

The Joy of Music
After church, I drove to a mall where I had been hired to play Christmas music on my harp to cheer holiday shoppers. The sky was gray and the air damp from the previous night’s rain. I arrived at the mall to discover that the outdoor public-address system was on and that my music would be competing with strident recorded sound. I set up my harp and bench and began to play: “0 Come, 0 Come, Emmanuel”; “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming”; “Still, Still, Still”; and “Lovely Is the Dark Blue Sky.” And then it happened. I looked up to find standing in front of me a father holding two youngsters bundled in mittens and scarves. “Could you play ‘Silent Night’ for us?” he asked. I did. He said, “Thank you so much,” and drew his little ones closer. Two lively teenaged girls with body piercings and spiky hair stopped and stayed for a while. “That is so beautiful,” one said. A young man walked by, then turned around and came back to listen. “That’s heavy,” he whispered.
The unbelievable, impossible magic continued. More parents. More mittened children held close. I lost count of how many times I was asked to play “Silent Night.” Time stopped. I did not want to. My assigned hour passed, but I never noticed.

What to Do?
Driving home, I thought back to the Scriptures I’d heard that morning. When the crowds and tax collectors asked John the Baptist what they should do to prepare the way for Jesus, he did not ask them to perform miracles or to stop all the violence on the earth. He told them simply to do what they already did but with generosity and integrity; to do what they already did but in a way that created comfort, healing, justice, and even joy. What could I do in the face of the violence of the previous days? Perhaps not much, but I could play my harp and play it in a way that was generous, offered healing, and perhaps—just perhaps—shared a bit of comfort and joy with those who needed it most. Here we are again: Rejoice Sunday. Once more we await the Lord’s coming. Isaiah tells us that God is coming to save, that there will be a blossoming forth in what was once a desert wasteland, and that sorrow and lament will end, replaced by everlasting joy. The Letter of James reminds us that we must be patient and vigilant in awaiting this joy, like the farmer awaiting the rain. Finally, in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus commands, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them” (11:4-5).

Hope in Action
It is faith that enables us to see Jesus now in our midst, being born in us anew in this Advent-Christmas season. It is a patient faith that trusts that the Lord will bring healing to sorrowing souls, a parched earth, and nations and hearts still divided and at war. And it is a courageous faith that understands that each one of us can, and must, contribute to preparing the way for the Lord on earth. Whether it is in sharing our material resources, or being financially just and honest as John exhorts the crowds and the tax collectors, or whether it is in playing a harp, helping a child, visiting someone who is lonely, serving in a soup kitchen, taking time to write letters to elected representatives, or simply greeting a weary cashier at the mall with a smile, there is something each one of us can do to prepare the way of the Lord. We each can create and share joy where joy is sorely needed.
With faith, there is hope, and hope can be either passive or active. If my hope this Rejoice Sunday is passive—the inclinations of my heart merely wishful—I can complain that it is not yet possible to be joyful. What I hope for is not happening. This year, the world is no better than it was last year.
But if my hope is active, if I work in even the smallest of ways to bring about what I hope for, my prayer becomes more than wishful thinking. It becomes a paving stone on the highway for our God. And that is cause for joy.
This year, December 14 is both the first anniversary of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School and the Vigil of the Third Sunday of Advent, Rejoice Sunday. In this new Advent-Christmas season of giving, let us as people of patient and courageous faith and active hope not simply wait for joy to happen but make it happen and give it freely. We await our Lord who is already here. In us. Let us create joy, bring joy, and be joy for others now and throughout the coming year.

Carolyn Ancell is a freelance musician and writer in Tucson, Arizona. (St. Anthony Messenger, December 2013 Pages 28-30)

Why Does Evil Exist

The evidence of human suffering is undeniable. If someone uses that fact as a reason not to believe in God, the suffering doesn’t disappear. In fact, it may be even harder to handle. As a group, are atheists more compassionate than people who believe in God? I don’t see any evidence to support such a generalization. Although some atheists work in soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and similar services, they rarely, if ever, sponsor them officially. People are killed by hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, catastrophic fires, and other causes. But most people never cite these as reasons not to believe in God or not to believe in God’s overall providence.
No, what they do cite are obviously human evils: murder, theft, abuse of children or vulnerable adults, and genocide that fill our daily news. God did not have to create stars, rocks, flowers, birds, or people. God did all of that out of love, acting in perfect freedom. We never act with the same freedom, but every time we act in more genuine freedom, we are acting as people made in God’s image and likeness.
Most human suffering is caused by an abuse of human freedom. God could, of course, have created a world in which human freedom could not be abused. That would be the ultimate demonstration of micromanaging. In such a world, however, we could make no sense of authentic love or God-given freedom.
The evil that we encounter all too often does not indicate a lack of due diligence on God’s part, but rather a failure on humans’ part to use their freedom in a way that acknowledges God as the ultimate source of our freedom.

St. Anthony Messenger, December 2013, Page 50

A Jesuit Pope with a Franciscan Heart

When the Jesuit Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, of Buenos Aires, was elected pope and took the name Francis, the world was enthralled—and intrigued, too. Did we now have as pope a Franciscan Jesuit? Or maybe he’s a Jesuit Franciscan? Having the first Jesuit pope choose the name of the most famous medieval saint draws us back to Church history. What was the importance of St. Francis of Assisi, who died in 1226, and his Franciscan friars for St. Ignatius of Loyola—who founded the Society of Jesus 300 years later? And how have both shaped Pope Francis?

Ignatius’ Inspiration
In May 1521, Ignatius (still known as Ifligo) was badly wounded in both legs from a horrific cannonball injury at the battle of Pamplona. After a pair of brutal surgeries afterward, he was recovering back home in Loyola that summer. To pass the time, he asked to read the kinds of tales of chivalry that had always inspired him, but none were around.
When someone handed Inigo a collection of saints’ lives called The Golden Legend, gathered by Jacopo da Voragine, he encountered Francis and Dominic, the innovative founders of the medieval mendicant orders. He remembered the moment years later in a memoir dictated to his secretary in Rome. “What would happen if I should do the things that St. Francis and St. Dominic did?” the convalescing Inigo found himself asking. “St. Francis did this? Then I must do it. St. Dominic did that? Then I must do it.”
The other book that came to Inigo, now wrestling with the crisis of how he should spend the rest of his life since his career as a dashing courtier and soldier seemed over, was Ludoiph of Saxony’s Life of Christ. This meditation influenced Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises quite a bit, especially in its invitation to envision a scene from the Gospel and then to place yourself in it. That Life of Christ had, in fact, been inspired substantially by a Franciscan text called the Meditationes Vitae Christi, which, for a long time, was attributed to the influential Franciscan St. Bonaventure, but had really been written by another friar named Giovanni de Caulihus.
When Ignatius later taught that we should try to “find God in all things,” he was surely drawing on the Franciscan devotion that God could be discovered in every element of the universe that God had created. This is the kind of incarnational theology that flows so poetically through Francis of Assisi’s “Canticle of the Creatures.”
Ignatius also was inspired by Francis’ practice of poverty, although the Jesuits rarely got into the kinds of heated debates that the Franciscans did about just how extreme that poverty had to be. For Ignatius, it was enough that his companions didn’t own anything themselves, but at the same time had the resources they needed to practice their ministries. Jesuits, as did Franciscans, regularly spent years as wandering preachers begging for their food and shelter. Ignatius believed that this experience was essential in the formation of his novices: they needed to taste the life of Jesus, Paul, and the first apostles in addition to Ignatius and Francis.

But a Rocky Relationship, Too
That is not to say that Ignatius and the Franciscans got along all the time. Soon after his recovery at Loyola, he developed a great desire to go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. While Ignatius curiously has little to say about his feelings at the holy sites in his later memoir, he dwells on the fact that the Franciscans there gave him a rather stiff heave-ho after he announced, in 1523, he’d like to stay. The Franciscans, who oversaw the holy sites and escorted pilgrims, explained that many others with that same desire had ended up captured and had to be ransomed. Some had even been killed, so it was not a good idea to stay.
Ignatius stubbornly said that this wouldn’t happen to him. He even stole away one night to revisit the Mount of Olives without the customary Franciscan escort. He bribed the guards there with a penknife and scissors so he could get in past closing time. When the friars discovered he was missing, they sent someone after Ignatius. This servant roughly grabbed Ignatius by the arm and dragged him back. The Franciscan provincial who had told him he couldn’t stay was so angry at Ignatius that he said he’d be glad to pull out the papal bulls that gave him permission to excommunicate a recalcitrant pilgrim like Ignatius. He finally relented and took the long journey home.
Maybe some of that bad blood was still there about 30 years later when a rich man from Ignatius’ home, the Basque region of Spain, got papal approval to set up a Confraternity of the Holy Sepulcher in Rome, with colleges in Cyprus, Constantinople, and Jerusalem. When word got to the Franciscans in the Holy Land that the Society of Jesus, which had been approved just a little more than a decade before, had set sights on Jerusalem, they voiced their objection loudly. For this and other reasons, the plan was dropped.

Franciscan Friendship
Between the incident at Jerusalem in 1523 and the conflict about a Jesuit college there in 1553, however, there were many positive interactions between the established Franciscans and the men who would be the first Jesuits. Ignatius and his friends studied under Franciscans and Dominicans when they took up advanced studies at the University of Paris. Earlier, Ignatius had benefited from the spiritual direction of a Franciscan confessor in Barcelona while working on preliminary studies there around 1524, before leaving for Paris. The most important encounter between Ignatius and a Franciscan confessor ended up making Ignatius the first superior general of the Jesuits.
As the story goes, Ignatius was twice unanimously elected by the first companions, excluding himself, who declined to name anyone, and said in his ballot that he agreed with whomever his friends chose. Twice he declined, but Ignatius agreed to yield to God’s will through the voice of his confessor, a Franciscan in Rome named Fra Teodosio da Lodi. This insightful man told Ignatius on Easter Sunday in 1541 that he was God’s choice to lead the new Society of Jesus. And so he did. For years afterward, Ignatius celebrated Mass in a Franciscan chapel in Rome, perhaps the very same room where God had spoken to the new Jesuit with a Franciscan voice. Now, 500 years later, it seems to be happening again.

By Christopher Bellitto, St. Anthony Messenger, December 2013 Pages 32 – 35.

Dedications by Month & Day

Dedication by Month
January (Holy Childhood)
February (Holy Family)
March (St. Joseph)
April (Holy Spirit/Holy Eucharist)
May (Mary)
June (Sacred Heart)
July (Precious Blood)
August (Blessed Sacrament)
September (Mary’s Seven Sorrows)
October (Holy Rosary)
November (Souls in Purgatory)
December (Immaculate Conception)

Dedication by Day
Sunday (Holy Trinity)
Monday (Souls in Purgatory/Holy Spirit)
Tuesday (Guardian Angels)
Wednesday (St. Joseph)
Thursday (Blessed Sacrament)
Friday (Precious Blood)
Saturday (Mary)1

1 The fourth edition of The Catholic Source Book (Harcourt Religion Publishers) provides this list. The feast of the Holy Family is celebrated in December, and Holy Thursday can fall in March or April; otherwise, each liturgical feast indicated above occurs in that month.  Other books may have other lists—there is no official, worldwide linking of feasts and months. In any case, this custom reminds us that all time belongs to God, is a gift from God, and should be used for God’s honor and glory. (St. Anthony Press, December 2013 Page 51)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

St. Alphonsus – Link to Crib & Cross

My introduction to two great themes of Alphonsian Spirituality did not come from a seminary retreat or a spiritual workshop. Rather, it came during my first visit to a major seminary chapel at Mount St. Alphonsus in Esopus, NY, that I was introduced to the themes behind St. Alphonsus’ understanding of the redemption: the crib and the cross.
The chapel contained the symbols found in any church or chapel: the altar, the tabernacle, the crucifix, etc. But then on either side of me I noticed a number of small side altars, each with a marble statue. The side altar on my left held a full-size replica of the Pietà from the 1939 World’s Fair, or so we were told as students. (I never confirmed the truth of this statement.) The side altar to my right showcased a life-sized manger scene with the infant Jesus in a crèche.
Each of the chapel’s pillars was decorated—as one might expect—with the Stations of the Cross. But as I walked around them I discovered something else I’d never seen: a series of stations created by St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori to help people meditate on Jesus and the story of his infancy. For example, Station IV: Jesus is wrapped in swaddling clothes. Station VI: Jesus is adored by the Magi. Station XI: Jesus sleeps.  And so it was during this chapel journey that I received St. Alphonsus’ message.1
Over time I’ve come to understand his message and its delivery through a variety of religious symbols. Each Redemptorist will study them, because they are central to the core thinking and spirituality of St. Aiphonsus. He viewed the mystery of the redemption as being linked not only to the passion, death, and resurrection of our Lord, but also to the incarnation. And he believed the two must be presented together for a full understanding of the gift provided by our Redeemer.
St. Alphonsus’ view of redemption was unique from that of other spiritual thinkers of his time. In his day, redemption was primarily focused on the passion of Christ. St. Alphonsus expanded this view to include the infancy story, which he saw as an essential part of the mystery of redemption. St. Alphonsus used the infancy story to offer insight into some of the core spiritual attitudes every person needs to bring to their reflection on redemption:  amazement, tenderness, compassion, and gratitude.

Humanity has posed this question for centuries. The pagan religions understood God as distant and not at all interested in this world. We then listen to the Hebrew Scriptures that speak of one God, a God of heaven who can be approached only by select people such as priests and prophets; thus, he’s still somewhat distant from us. But through Moses and the prophets, we learn of God as we know him: one who looks down from heaven with mercy and compassion on those who seek him.
In the infancy story of Christ, God reaches out to us in a dramatic way by descending from heaven and entering our world. This is a God who, as attested to by the shepherds, journeys among ordinary people, a God who reaches out to both Jews and Gentiles, as represented by the Magi. Amazement is the best term to use here—amazement toward our God—he who reaches out to us in a way we could never imagine. We never dreamed God wanted to be that close to us.

Pagan religions saw gods as distant and mysterious divinities who kept their distance. When the gods did deal with us, pagans believed, their actions were often perceived as unsympathetic and aggressive.  The Hebrew Scriptures speak of a God who is all-powerful but also has a tender side. The prophet Isaiah says our God will not break a bruised reed or snuff a smoldering wick. This text references a God of mercy.
The infancy story of Christ then presents us with a God who is very approachable, a God who comes to us as a vulnerable infant so we will not be afraid to enter into his midst. God presents himself in a way to remove fear and encourage a relationship. This presentation changes God’s portrayal from an all-powerful “crashing through the heavens” force to an image of gentleness and tenderness. What infant does not draw a response of gentleness?

The pagan religions came to an understanding that the gods would deal with us in a harsh and vengeful way if we didn’t listen to their commands or acted against their will. But the Hebrew Scriptures tell us about a God who presents us with commandments and understands our weaknesses in responding to his will. Although we may find statutes and ordinances overwhelming, we also find forgiveness through sacrifice.
In the infancy story, we learn our God who dwells with us is one who understands our difficulties and therefore is gentle with us. Jesus will not change the commandments, but because he has walked in our shoes he is acknowledged as one who understands the difficulties of doing good and avoiding evil. And it is in Christ that we are able to find forgiveness from our transgressions.

Both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures are filled with gratitude for God’s activity in our lives. And here is where the infancy story of Christ is most alive. The heavens sing out gratitude through the angels. The shepherds are grateful, for as twenty-four—hour workers in the field they are unable to approach God in the Temple. And now with joy they discover a God who reaches out to them where they are.
This is a God who will do anything to become approachable, even go to the extreme of becoming a vulnerable infant. The Magi are grateful because God cares about all people, no matter where they’re from, and because they may approach God with confidence that they won’t be turned away. Through the star in the heavens over the manger and through the approach of the animals to the crèche, all creation is now seen as celebrating the birth of the Savior who will bring about redemption for all. All of this, which we learn about in the infancy narratives, opens the way to the passion story of a God willing to continue to be vulnerable for us by offering himself up to death on the cross.

The themes of amazement, tenderness, compassion, and gratitude will continue through the passion narrative that the infancy narrative has prepared us for. Amazement: God’s vulnerability will include death on a cross. Tenderness: Even in his dealings with Pilate, Jesus is respectful and not filled with anger at his persecutors. Compassion: Jesus will even forgive those who put him to death and reach out with mercy to the repentant thief. Gratitude: Through his passion and death, we understand that our sins are forgiven and the way to eternal life is opened for us.
In St. Alphonsus’ mind, when you merge the infancy and passion stories you get a complete understanding of the gift and mystery of redemption. The infancy story adds to our understanding of a God who not only suffers and dies for us but who also journeys with us throughout our lives. This is the core of St. Alphonsus’ understanding of redemption, which I have learned through discussions with my Redemptorist confreres who continually reflect on his spirituality and writings. May they deepen your understanding of the gift of our Most Holy Redeemer and help you reflect on the infancy themes of amazement, tenderness, compassion, and gratitude.2

1 Another version of these stations goes as follows:
First Station,                 The Annunciation Luke 1:26—38
Second Station,            The Visitation—Luke 1:39—45
Third Station,                The Song of Mary (Magnificat) — Luke 1:46—55
Fourth Station, The Birth of John the Baptist—Luke 1:57—66
Fifth Station,                 The Prophecy of Zechariah — Luke 1:67—79
Sixth Station,                Joseph’s Dream —Matthew 1:18—23
Seventh Station,            Joseph Takes Mary into His Home —Matthew 1:24—25
Eighth Station, The Journey to Bethlehem—Luke 2:1—5
Ninth Station,               The Birth of Jesus — Luke 2:6—7
Tenth Station,               The Announcement of the Angels — Luke 2:8—14
Eleventh Station,           The Shepherds Share the Good News—Luke 2:15—20
Twelfth Station,            The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple — Luke 2:22—24
Thirteenth Station,         The Blessing of Simeon — Luke 25—38
Fourteenth Station,       The Wise Men Come from the East—Matthew 2:1—12
            (Stations of the Nativity By Patrick Kelley, Paulist Press, 2002)
2 By Rev. John Kingsbury, CSsR, DMin, December 2013.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Pope Francis, the Pope of the People

On the edge of Buenos Aires is a nothing little street called Pasaje C, a shot of dried mud leading into a slum from what passes for a main road, the garbage-strewn Mariano Acosta. There is a church, the Immaculate Virgin, toward the end of the ­pasaje—Spanish for passage—where, on one occasion, the local priest and a number of frightened residents took refuge deep in the sanctuary when rival drug gangs opened fire. Beyond the church, Pasaje C branches into the rest of the parish: more rutted mud and cracked concrete form Pasajes A to K. Brick chips from the hasty construction of squatter housing coagulate along what ought to be sidewalks. The word asesino—­murderer—is scrawled in spray-paint on the sooty wall of a burned-out house, which was torched just days before in retaliation for yet another shooting. Packs of dogs sprawl beneath wrecked cars. Children wander heedless of traffic, because nothing can gather speed on these jagged roads. But even Pasaje C can lead to Rome.
As Cardinal and Archbishop of Buenos Aires, a metropolis of some 13.5 million souls, Jorge Mario Bergoglio made room in his schedule every year for a pastoral visit to this place of squalor and sorrow.­ He would walk to the subway station nearest to the Metropolitan Cathedral, whose pillars and dome fit easily into the center of Argentine power. Traveling alone, he would transfer onto a graffiti-blasted tram to Mariano Acosta, reaching where the subways do not go. He finished the journey on foot, moving heavily in his bulky black orthopedic shoes along Pasaje C. On other days, there were other journeys to barrios throughout the city—so many in need of so much, but none too poor or too filthy for a visit from this itinerant prince of the church. Reza por mí, he asked almost everyone he met. Pray for me.
When, on March 13, Bergoglio inherited the throne of St. Peter—keeper of the keys to the kingdom of heaven—he made the same request of the world. Pray for me. His letter of retirement, a requirement of all bishops 75 and older, was already on file in a Vatican office, awaiting approval. Friends in Argentina had perceived him to be slowing down, like a spent force. In an instant, he was a new man, calling himself Francis after the humble saint from Assisi. As Pope, he was suddenly the sovereign of Vatican City and head of an institution so ­sprawling—with about enough followers to populate China—so steeped in order, so snarled by bureaucracy, so vast in its charity, so weighted by its scandals, so polarizing to those who study its teachings, so mysterious to those who don’t, that the gap between him and the daily miseries of the world’s poor might finally have seemed unbridgeable. Until the 266th Supreme Pontiff walked off in those clunky shoes to pay his hotel bill.
The papacy is mysterious and magical: it turns a septuagenarian into a superstar while revealing almost nothing about the man himself. And it raises hopes in every corner of the world—hopes that can never be fulfilled, for they are irreconcilable. The elderly traditionalist who pines for the old Latin Mass and the devout young woman who wishes she could be a priest both have hopes. The ambitious monsignor in the Vatican Curia and the evangelizing deacon in a remote Filipino village both have hopes. No Pope can make them all happy at once.
But what makes this Pope so important is the speed with which he has captured the imaginations of millions who had given up on hoping for the church at all. People weary of the endless parsing of sexual ethics, the buck-passing infighting over lines of authority when all the while (to borrow from Milton), “the hungry Sheep look up, and are not fed.” In a matter of months, Francis has elevated the healing mission of the church—the church as servant and comforter of hurting people in an often harsh world—above the doctrinal police work so important to his recent predecessors. John Paul II and Benedict XVI were professors of theology. Francis is a former janitor, nightclub bouncer, chemical technician and literature teacher.
And behind his self-effacing facade, he is a very canny operator. He makes masterly use of 21st century tools to perform his 1st century office. He is photographed washing the feet of female convicts, posing for selfies with young visitors to the Vatican, embracing a man with a deformed face. He is quoted saying of women who consider abortion because of poverty or rape, “Who can remain unmoved before such painful situations?” Of gay people: “If a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge.” To divorced and remarried Catholics who are, by rule, forbidden from taking Communion, he says that this crucial rite “is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”

Through these conscious and skillful evocations of moments in the ministry of Jesus, as recounted in the Gospels, this new Pope may have found a way out of the 20th century culture wars, which have left the church moribund in much of Western Europe and on the defensive from Dublin to Los Angeles. But the paradox of the papacy is that each new man’s success is burdened by the astonishing successes of Popes past. The weight of history, of doctrines and dogmas woven intricately century by century, genius by genius, is both the source and the limitation of papal power. It radiates from every statue, crypt and hand-painted vellum text in Rome—and in churches, libraries, hospitals, universities and museums around the globe. A Pope sets his own course only if he can conform it to paths already chosen.
And so Francis signals great change while giving the same answers to the uncomfortable questions. On the question of female priests: “We need to work harder to develop a profound theology of the woman.” This means: no. No to abortion, because an individual life begins at conception. No to gay marriage, because the male-female bond is established by God. “The teaching of the church … is clear,” he has said, “and I am a son of the church, but”—and here he adds his prayer for himself—“it is not necessary to talk about those issues all the time.”
If that prayer should be answered, if somehow by his own vivid example Francis could bring the church into a new relationship with its critics and dissidents—agreeing to disagree about issues that divide them while cooperating in the urgent mission of spreading mercy—he might unleash untold good. “Argue less, accomplish more” could be a healing motto for our times. We have a glut of problems to tackle. Francis says by example, Stop bickering and roll up your sleeves. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good—an important thing for the world to hear, especially from a man who holds an office deemed infallible.

A Changing Papacy
This papacy begins with a name. Jorge Bergoglio is the first Pope to choose as his namesake Francis of Assisi, the 13th century patron saint of the poor. The choice, coming after 14 Clements, 16 Benedicts and 21 Johns, is clearly and pointedly personal. The 13th century Francis turned to the ministry when, as legend has it, he heard a voice calling to him from a crucifix to repair God’s house. He left his prosperous silk-merchant family to live with the poor. He was a peacemaker, the first Catholic leader to travel to Egypt to try to end the Crusades. He placed mercy at the core of his life.
From that name follows much of Francis’ agenda. While the Catholic Church envisioned by Benedict XVI was one of tightly calibrated spiritual prescriptions, Francis told Father Antonio Spadaro, editor of the Jesuit magazine Civiltà Cattolica, in an interview published at the end of September, that he sees “the church as a field hospital after battle.” His vision is of a pastoral—not a doctrinaire—church, and that will shift the Holy See’s energies away from demanding long-distance homage and toward ministry to and embrace of the poor, the spiritually broken and the lonely. He expanded on this idea in a 288-section apostolic exhortation called “Evangelii Gaudium,” or “The Joy of the Gospel.” “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security,” he wrote. He made it clear that he does not just want talk—he wants actual transformation.
He has halted the habit of granting priests the honorific title of monsignor as a way to stem careerism in the ranks and put the focus instead on pastoring. He told a gathering of his diplomats that he wanted them to identify candidates for bishop in their home countries who are, he said, “gentle, patient and merciful, animated by inner poverty, the freedom of the Lord and also by outward simplicity and austerity of life.” To Francis, poverty isn’t simply about charity; it’s also about justice. The church, by extension, should not reflect Rome; it should mirror the poor.
Which helps explain why he has turned the once obscure Vatican Almoner, an agency that has been around for about 800 years and is often reserved for an aging Catholic diplomat, over to the dynamic 50-year-old Polish Archbishop Konrad Krajewski and told him to make it the Holy See’s new front porch. “You can sell your desk,” Francis told Krajewski. “You don’t need it. You need to get out of the Vatican. Don’t wait for people to come ringing. You need to go out and look for the poor.” The Archbishop hands out small amounts to the needy, including a recent gift of 1,600 phone cards to immigrant survivors of a capsized boat so they could call family back in Eritrea. Francis often gives Krajewski stacks of letters with his instructions to help the people who have written to him and asked for aid. In what sounds like a necessary precaution, the Vatican recently issued a denial after Krajewski hinted that Francis himself sometimes slips out of the Vatican dressed as an ordinary priest to hand out alms.